Big Pass sand borrow area offshore of Siesta Key eliminated from dredging plans in new Army Corps of Engineers solicitation for bids on Lido project

Amount of sand to be placed on Lido Beach reduced almost 40%

This engineering drawing in the new USACE solicitation package shows the two borrow areas for the Lido project. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

After reviewing the new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ solicitation package for the Lido Renourishment Project, Siesta Key Association leaders expressed their delight this week to The Sarasota News Leader.

As SKA Director Robert Luckner pointed out in an email to the News Leader, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has eliminated Borrow Area — or Cut — B in Big Sarasota Pass, which was offshore of Siesta Key’s Sandy Hook neighborhood. During a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding conducted in December 2017, the SKA and a second nonprofit, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), provided expert testimony about the spawning of seatrout in Borrow Area B during spring and summer. As a result, the permit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued to the City of Sarasota and the USACE for the Lido project prohibited any removal of sand from that borrow area from April to September.

An engineering drawing in the first solicitation — published in May — shows the area of Cut C that was eliminated as a sand source, along with the proposed Cut B. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
An aerial view shows Sandy Hook on the northern part of Siesta Key. Image from Google Maps

Additionally, Luckner noted, the USACE has decreased the amount of sand it plans to place on the critically eroded South Lido Key Beach from 950,000 cubic yards to 590,000 cubic yards, a 38% reduction. “It’s a big victory,” Luckner told the News Leader during a Dec. 18 telephone interview.

The information about the sand figure is included in the Line Items and Pricing Schedule that is part of the primary USACE solicitation document. Companies that bid on the project must note their cost per cubic yard, the schedule shows.

This is a section of the new solicitation package that shows the smaller sand volume for Lido Key Beach. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Although the USACE consistently has noted the 950,000 cubic yards figure in documents since it submitted its permit application to FDEP in March 2015, a January USACE letter to SKA member Michael Holderness — a copy of which the News Leader obtained from the USACE — made it clear the final number could be less.

In that January letter, Trisston Brown, chief of the Florida Projects Section for the Water Resources Branch of the USACE in Jacksonville, wrote that with initiatives such as the one planned for Lido, adjustments to the design of the beach fill and sand volumes “are conducted during the Project Engineering and Design (PED) phase immediately before construction. … Now that this project is in the PED phase, the Corps project team is currently establishing the volumes that will be required for the design template and the [amount of sand to be place on the beach],” Brown continued. “The volumes described in the FDEP permit are the maximum volumes authorized to be dredged. Consideration of the factors described above … could cause the volumes to decrease.”

The FDEP permit allows up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand to be removed from Big Pass.

Brown had not responded by the News Leader‘s Dec. 19 publication deadline to questions this reporter sent him about the elimination of Cut B and the sand volume reduction.

The new solicitation continues to eliminate the eastern third of Borrow Area C, SKA Director Luckner added in his Dec. 18 email. That area, he noted, was where most of the seagrass destruction was anticipated. The decision to remove that portion of that borrow area was noted in the original solicitation for the Lido project, which the USACE published in May. The federal agency cancelled that solicitation in early August after receiving bids it called “unreasonably high.”

“[T]his is everything SKA was asking for except for eliminating the western part of Cut C,” Luckner wrote of the new package.

To remove sand from the western part of Borrow Area C, Luckner continued, a cut 13 feet deep and 500 feet wide has been planned in the Big Pass ebb shoal.

Robert Luckner addresses the SKA audience on July 6, 2017, discussing the potential for increased wave energy on the north end of Siesta as a result of the dredging of Big Pass. File photo

“Why did the Corps and City make these changes?” he added in the email. “They did it to reduce their project cost, there is not much sand in Cut B anyways and because SKA finally made them see the light.”

The SKA has been in litigation with the City of Sarasota over the Lido Renourishment Project plans since March 2017, arguing that the city has failed to follow its own policies and regulations as well as several in effect for Sarasota County. After losing in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, SKA leaders agreed to appeal the decision to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal. SKA President Catherine Luckner — Robert Luckner’s wife — told the News Leader that the nonprofit will file its brief with the appeals court on Feb. 6, 2020, a date to which the parties had agreed.

The Luckners have spent years researching facets of the joint USACE/City of Sarasota proposal for the Lido initiative. SKA members gave them a round of applause at the last meeting of members, held on Dec. 5.

The second nonprofit opposed to the design of the Lido project, SOSS2, is waging a legal battle against the USACE in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in Tampa. Leaders of that organization have said they understand the federal court likely will not render its decision before February, with final motions having been filed early this month.

SOSS2 has alleged that the USACE has violated a number of federal laws — including the Clean Water Act — in its plans for the renourishment of South Lido Beach.

When the News Leader this week contacted SOSS2 leader Mark Smith for comments on the new Lido bid, Smith responded in a Dec. 19 email.

“At first glance at the revised dredging map it appears more like a navigational dredging project than ‘Hurricane Reduction,’” he wrote. (The official USACE name for the Lido undertaking is the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.)

“Dredging through the shoal will reduce the velocity of the water entering and leaving through Big Pass,” Smith continued.

A marker in Big Pass warns boaters of a shoal. Rachel Hackney photo

“The reduced velocity will result in the current channel and the new channel to silt in, eventually rendering both channels impassable over time,” he added.

“Big Pass has never been dredged nor has it ever needed to be dredged for boating access to and from Sarasota Bay,” Smith pointed out.

“This proposed channel dredging will now require periodic dredging, the same as New Pass.

“Which is exactly what the City of Sarasota is counting on. Creating a problem in the guise of a solution,” Smith wrote.

“There is a real possibility that the dredge through Big Pass shoal will hinder, if not totally cut off, boating access through the pass. That the construction of these massive groins will eventually cause severe erosion to Ted Sperling Park. (The USACE plans two groins on South Lido to try to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments.) That the dredging of the new channel will result in the reduction of sand flowing southward to Siesta Key, resulting in the reduction of the width of the beaches and endangering the properties along the coast,” Smith pointed out.

This engineering drawing in the new solicitation shows the planned location of the two groins on South Lido, just north of the county’s Ted Sperling Park. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“The computer model the Army Corps used to predict the movement of sand around and through Big Pass after the dredging was inadequate. There is no certainty as to what is going to happen after the dredging occurs.

“The Army Corps has asked us to trust them,” Smith noted. “Their track record is less than stellar.”

The USACE has remained steadfast in offering assurances that its modeling has shown no harm will come to Big Pass or Siesta Key as a result of the removal of sand from the waterway or the ebb shoal, or the construction of the groins.

A second try, with a different approach

Having failed during the summer to get a bid for the Lido Renourishment Project that it felt was financially reasonable, the USACE is taking a new tack with its second attempt.

“The solicitation will be unique because it will allow for an unconstrained construction start time and advertise around the same time as the neighboring Manatee County beach project,” Brown of the USACE’s Florida Projects Section in Jacksonville told theNews Leaderthis week.

“The goal is to give bidders flexibility with scheduling their assets and obtain more competitive bids for both projects since they are reasonably close together,” he added in a Dec. 17 email.

This is the document the USACE published on July 30, showing facets of the two bids. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In regard to the Manatee County project, that local government’s website explains, “Beginning this spring, the [USACE] will be conducting two phases of beach renourishment projects on Anna Maria Island.

“The first phase, the Central Beach Project, will take place along the beaches between 78th Street North on Holmes Beach to approximately 5th Street South in Bradenton Beach. The second phase, the Coquina Beach Project, will take place at 5th Street South in Bradenton Beach and continue south to Longboat Key.”

The USACE plans to start construction on the beach no earlier than February or March 2020, the website adds, and continue the work through July 2020.

Michael T. Poff, president of the Coastal Engineering Consultants firm in Naples, has explained to the Sarasota County commissioners that few companies handle dredging projects these days; thus, they are drawn more readily to regional initiatives.

As part of his consulting work for the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions on the Manasota Key Beach Renourishment Project, Poff has pointed out that companies send equipment all over the world to take on what they consider to be the most attractive beach renourishment opportunities.

In regard to the new Lido solicitation package, Brown of the USACE also wrote in his Dec. 17 email to the News Leader, “The Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers will solicit proposals for approximately 30-45 days and is scheduled to make a formal award in early February 2020. Construction must [be completed] by May 1, 2021.”

These charts in the new solicitation package provide details about the order of dredging for the contractor and sand volumes in the borrow areas. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The solicitation webpage says offers are due by 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 23.

In late July, after revising its initial solicitation package several times, the USACE received two bids for the Lido project. After it cancelled the solicitation in early August, the USACE provided a document explaining that decision. It showed the agency had estimated the expense of the Lido initiative at $14,149,000. The lower bid was $22,135,100; the higher offer, $27,195,725.

Weeks Marine, whose corporate headquarters is in Cranford, N.J., submitted the lower bid. The higher offer came from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. LLC, which is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill.

In the new solicitation, the USACE notes, “Magnitude of construction is between [$10 million and $25 million].”

The top of the package states in all bold caps, “THIS OPPORTUNITY IS AVAILABLE ONLY TO THE FOLLOWING CONTRACTORS,” which have been awarded bids under a specific federal solicitation number.

Both Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. and Weeks Marine are on that list.